Growing up in the West, we are accustomed to fixed prices when we shop, and a useful little tool called the price tag. If the price is more then you want to pay, you simply know to move on and find an alternative product. When you are visiting markets, souks and bazaars in many countries while traveling (especially typical in the Middle East, Asia and South America), then the pricing is a little hazier and you are expected to negotiate to find one which is suitable. The aim here is not to screw your vendor into the ground, but to establish a middle point on the prices which means both of you are happy with the transaction and neither of you lose money. Haggling can seem intimidating at first, but it is commonplace, and your vendor expects you to negotiate. Once you’ve experimented with it once or twice, you may actually find the experience enjoyable! For the novice haggler, I’ve established ten “top tips” to help you to ensure you that you get the right amount of bang for your buck.
So you’ve ventured into the bazaar and you have an item in mind which you want to purchase. For the sake of this example, let’s say that it’s a scarf. Don’t stroll up to the first stall you see, check out their prices and take that as the correct going price for a scarf, instead, wander around the stalls making a mental note of the varying prices offered. Once you find one that you like, if the vendor tries to charge you a price that exceeds that, you can slap him with a reference to his competitors price and he’ll know that you’ve done your research. Once you’ve established that as your starting price, you can proceed to negotiate the price down from there.
Never take the first price offered
The first price you will be presented with will be substantially inflated from the actual market value of the item and presented to you as such because the vendor expects you to haggle as is customary in their culture. The vendor will perhaps expect you to go in with an offer at 50% of his, but you should cut lower and offer 30%, then he can scoff and tut in disgust and you can work your way up from there. Of course, you are never going to end on this 30% pricing point, but it’s better to start the negotiations lower.
Assess how much you are willing to pay.
If it’s a particularly fabulous scarf – a magical, colourful beauty of a scarf they you’ve dreamed about all your life, and a scarf you will lose sleep and cry over if you do not obtain, then maybe you are willing to pay a little more. Keep your maximum offer price in mind during your negotiations so if you’re vendor is a particularly tough cookie to haggle with, you still acquire said majestic scarf even if you feel you paid ever so slightly over the odds.
Ask the locals for advice
Before you head out to the bazaar, ask locals what they believe is the going price for the item that you are looking to purchase. (You could also ask fellow shoppers what you think, but if you are in an Arab or developing nation then they may not speak English, so it’s better to ask someone in hospitality – a front desk clerk or restaurant owner for example). During your negotiations, you can also whip out the “local price” as another useful bargaining tool so your vendor knows he cannot trick you, since you know the rates.
Optional use of dramatic gestures
There are several gestures and actions that you can use to express your feelings during the discussions. Tuts, scoffs and exclamations emphasise your stance and your shock at prices which are above the odds. (It sounds comedic, but chances are, you’ll find yourself doing these naturally anyway!)
Buy more, pay less
If the vendor has a beautiful array of mystical, exotic scarves and his store makes you feel like you’ve died and gone to scarf heaven, maybe you’re not satisfied with just one little scarf, maybe you want to go wild and buy two scarves or… wait for it… THREE scarves!! If the vendor knows you’re open to doing more business, he’ll possibly offer a deal for you making a larger purchase – for example, $15 for one scarf, becomes $10 a scarf when three are purchased. Let the vendor know that you are open to this (if you are!).
Be willing to walk away.
If the guy’s really playing hardball and you feel like he’s ripping you off, know when you reach the point when it’s time to say sayonara. Oftentimes, you’ll find that when you begin to walk away from the stall, the vendor will come chasing after you with a better offer.
Watch other travellers and customers.
If you’re still nervous, take a look around and see what other people are doing. You can then see first hand what works and what doesn’t with specific vendors. It’s interesting to bare witness to the techniques that other people use. Some may point out faults in the item to push for a reduction, others may simply haggle confidently and persuasively. When you’re ready to have your turn, pick up your scarf and go for it.
Don’t act like a rich tourist.
If you’re holding a purse or a money bag that’s bursting at the seams with bills, yet you’re telling this vendor that you can’t afford or don’t want to pay the rate he’s proposing, he’s going to continue to push it and not move on his offer, since he knows you can afford to pay the extra. If you’re going to a market to buy something, set aside your “shopping money” separate to all of your travel cash. This both allows you to budget and doesn’t reveal all the cash that you’re carrying around.
Don’t try to beat the Vendor down
Always have some empathy when you’re haggling. Acknowledge that there are instances where you may pay a little more than the locals, but as long as the extra amount isn’t extortionate, then it isn’t always necessary to keep pushing and pushing the vendor. Remember that these people will earn a lot less money than we do, they will have a family to support, and bills to pay, and what is a little extra for us will go a long way for them.
The most important thing to remember about haggling is to just relax and try to enjoy the experience. Think of yourself as an exotic traveling merchant lady that’s out for a good deal. Regardless of your ultimate settling price, you will always have a good story to tell people when they ask you where you bought your fabulous item.